CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chef Jon Ashton is a man on a mission to bring busy families and friends together to make simple, fast and delicious meals that matter nutritionally.
He is on a national live cooking show tour sharing his 20 years of culinary knowledge with home cooks from coast to coast, including Charleston from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 21 in the Civic Center Little Theatre.
In an interview earlier in the week, Ashton, a Liverpool, England, native now living in Chicago, said that moving to the United States was a childhood dream that began after reading a book about Abraham Lincoln.
"I'm really excited to be coming [to Charleston]. It will be a lot of fun. I try to cook with a smile," Ashton said.
"I'll make five to six recipes during the show, and I always have people from the audience come and help with the demonstrations," Ashton said.
Ashton believes people should aim for a balanced diet and "to eat in moderation because eating too many comfort foods can make you plain... uncomfortable."
"Obesity is on the decrease for the first time. I want to bring more awareness to the young people. They are the future of our country," Ashton said.
"Life. We're busy. Time management is the key. Start by planning a menu. Planning it out always helps. Plan trips to the grocery store," Ashton said when asked about how time-pressed people can get a healthy meal on the table.
Ashton also recommends cooking with your children. He is the father of a soon-to-be 7-year-old daughter.
"She loves to cook with me," Ashton said. He also recommended putting on some music before you begin cooking.
"I'm trying to get her to listen to The Beatles but she likes Taylor Swift," Ashton said with a laugh.
"Ask your child to help and taste. When they feel they are a part of it, they'll be interested too. Recharge the batteries together," he said.
The chef credited his Granny Ashton with teaching him to cook and imparting him with a love of cooking.
"She baked for five neighbors every Saturday and did it from the goodness of her heart. It [her kitchen] was a jovial place to be. She taught me the gift of giving," Ashton said.
Ashton is also a graduate of St. Helens College in Great Britain. He began his culinary career in several notable English restaurants, including the Derby Lodge Hotel and The Kirkfield Hotel in Newton Le-Willows.
He claims he can make a home chef out of anyone: "When I show them the steps and tricks in the kitchen, they can do it."
The chef described his current favorite cooking tip: "Freeze a banana and grate it on a microplane. It is marvelous. So tasty. Just melts in your mouth."
He was asked to name five guests to an imaginary dinner party, dead or alive, Ashton said without hesitation, "Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Buddha, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King." He'd serve ribs, coleslaw and baked beans, he said.
Last year, Ashton began writing columns for dash and PARADE, both supplements to the Charleston Gazette. He is also the food correspondent for the nationally syndicated morning show The Daily Buzz and hosts his own website at www.jonashton.com.
Seating is limited to the event. VIP seats are $45. General admission seats are $15. To purchase tickets, go to www.ticketmaster.com.
Warm Olives with Rosemary
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 strips of lemon peel
2 strips of orange peel
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 small rosemary sprig
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 pound mixed olives
RINSE olives in strainer under running water. Set aside to drain.
COMBINE in a medium saucepan the oil with the strips of lemon and orange peels, rosemary and garlic and cook over medium heat until the garlic just begins to become golden (about 6 minutes).
REMOVE from the heat, stir in the olives and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Curried Chicken Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Raita